Posted in Reviews on May 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
For more than a decade, New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Craig Williamson has offered solo trips to the cosmos under the moniker Lamp of the Universe, early albums like The Cosmic Union (2001) and Echo in Light (2002) serving as the foundation for lysergic sitar explorations to come on a subsequent run of records that includes 2005’s Heru, 2006’s Earth, Spirit and Sky and that same year’s From the Mystic Rays of Astrological Light. Lamp of the Universe’s last ceremony was 2009’s Acid Mantra (review here), and in the interim, Williamson helped found and handled bass and vocal duties in Arc of Ascent, releasing two albums with the trio in the form of their 2010 debut, Circle of the Sun (review here) and last year’s The Higher Key (review here) and departing from Lamp of the Universe’s intimate feel toward heavy psych and grunge without retreading the ground Williamson already covered as a member of underrated heavy rockers Datura. Unsurprisingly, the time spent creating with Arc of Ascent seems to have fed into Williamson’s processes for the solo-project, and though Lamp of the Universe remains as expansive and intricately layered as ever on the newest release, Transcendence – Williamson handling acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums, sitar, Rhoads, synth, djembe, mellotron, tanpura, recorder in addition to the vocals, recording, mixing and putting the 46-minute full-length out through his own Astral Projection imprint – there’s a sense of movement to the songs that’s continued both from Acid Mantra and from the work of the full-band. For example, with six tracks broken even between, Transcendence has a distinct vinyl feel, each of its two sides ending with a longer cut that serves to push into new territory for the project or at very least further develop the ideas that the two prior tracks present, whether it’s “Transcendence” at the end of the first half taking the headphone-ready textures of “Pantheist” and “Creation of Light” to gorgeous interplay of mellotron and sitar or the closing “Beyond the Material World” mounting a one-man space rock freakout that’s the only cut on Transcendence to top 10 minutes long. Throughout, Williamson’s vocal approach, soft and spiritually contemplative, serves as a uniting factor, and as ever for Lamp of the Universe, the flow is unmistakable and consuming.
Drum lines are simple, but serve immediately on “Pantheist” to position Transcendence somewhere between acid folk and heavy psych, Williamson’s basslines tapping into some of the Om influence that showed up as well in the patterning of Arc of Ascent’s The Higher Key, while themes of love and freedom and exploration remain consistent with Lamp of the Universe’s earliest works. The drumming isn’t really new either – one can hear it as far back as “Freedom in Your Mind” from The Cosmic Union – but it’s the way the drums are used in the progressions and grooves that gives Transcendence a more rocking vibe, “Pantheist” playing out in a way that probably would’ve worked just as well structurally for Arc of Ascent, though of course the arrangement would be different, sans mellotron, backwards guitars and the overall peaceful feel that pervades. “Creation of Light” boasts a comparatively still atmosphere, interweaving a central acoustic guitar line and sitar atop lush tanpura drones and gradually introducing recorder flourish and djembe percussion without ever taking on the kind of rock-minded push of the opener. In its second half, Williamson layers vocal ambience to coincide with the instrumental payoff and the effect is as engaging sonically as it is a triumph of arrangement, but the highlight of side A is still to come with “Transcendence,” which marries the two viewpoints, bringing drums, tanpura, sitar, mellotron and a traditional verse structure together to a singular development that’s warmly toned, rich in color and neither pretentious nor obtuse. After three minutes into the total 8:28, Williamson opens into a sort of jam with himself, holding down the central line on bass and drums while adding a deceptively bluesy electric guitar solo amid the tanpura and sitar before resuming the verse and saving a fuzzier lead for later in the track, gradually diminishing on a long fadeout to end the first half of the album. Listening, I can’t help but wonder how long that jam actually went on, though the CD version of Transcendence allows only a few seconds to process the fullness of sound Williamson is able to accomplish before the acoustics and prevalent mellotron of “The Sign of Love” opens side B as the first of two shorter pieces.
Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Beastwars are not a band who do anything small. From their massive-sounding production, to the epic themes in their songs, to the scale of their artwork, the Wellington, New Zealand, foursome operate in one mode, and that mode is huge. Even in the quiet, brooding moments of their second self-released LP, Blood Becomes Fire, on the title-track for example, or the earlier “Rivermen,” they retain an imposing sensibility, pushing sludge riffs, noise crunch and modern doom atmospherics in songs that — contrary to what one would almost certainly expect unless they encountered Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here) — only once pass the five-minute mark and never wander far from a discernible structure. Pace varies more than mood on the vinyl-ready 39-minute/10-track offering, and Blood Becomes Fireis almost universally aggressive, but as big as they go sonically, Beastwars — vocalist Matt Hyde, guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan Hickey — don’t give in to metallic chestbeating. As they did on the self-titled, Hyde ‘s vocals convey a persistent drama through a deceptively varied array of clean lines and harsher growls, and that in combination with Anderson‘s riffing, Woods‘ at-the-forefront low end and Hickey‘s plodding stomp is more than enough to get the point across of their dominance. As a unit, they work with vicious efficiency and even more than their first offering, Blood Becomes Fireis an individualized show of their potency and memorable songwriting. It is stylistically consistent with its predecessor, but an all-around more developed collection, and one that’s been met with considerable critical hyperbole and “album of the year”-type praise. That was true of the first record as well, and an accordingly sizable response seems fitting for an outfit so bent on sonic grandiosity, but whatever laurels have been placed on Beastwars’ collective head, they deliver on Blood Becomes Fire a full-length that seems less concerned with exciting critics and more about bashing skulls in the live sphere. Certainly the instrumental and vocal hooks alike speak to that, and if it’s a signal of the band’s affinity for staging their material, it’s only served to make them a tighter, crisper unit.
The album impresses even unto its symmetry. Ten tracks are split easily into two vinyl sides with the three-minute “Dune” leading off at a faster clip, taking a winding verse riff and opening it to a bigger chorus topped with Hyde’s harsh, sometimes Kirk Windsteinian snarling. Woods’ bass does a lot of the work in filling out the opener, but the guitars are still at the fore sonically with the drums and vocals cutting through. Beastwars change the feel between the tracks enough so that “Dune” doesn’t quite hint at everything they have to offer throughout, but it’s an effective start for Blood Becomes Fire all the same and builds momentum that they carry through to the subsequent “Imperium,” the second longest cut at 4:36 and built around a nasty, crushing groove, Anderson and Woods not so much fighting for prominence as uniting at the front to pummel together. Stops in the bridge lead to some double-kick from Hickey, and Hyde maintains an almost indecipherable guttural gnash vocally, rasping out lines in rhythmic time before slipping back into the tonal assault from whence he came. Just before three minutes in, he moves into a jarring, higher-pitched scream that signals the height of the track’s push – Anderson follows soon on guitar and Hyde moves up on bass as well, mounting a swirl that they skillfully take back to the initial groove, Hickey cutting to half-time on the drums to march the way out. A noise rock – that’s not to say AmRep, not knowing if it’s actually an influence or coincidence of sound – bite shows up in “Tower of Skulls,” mostly in Woods’ tone, but also in the cyclical lurch of the riff, though Hyde’s vocals and the midpoint surge of melody give that noise a different context that emphasizes Beastwars’ ability to take something familiar and make it their own. Following an uptempo bridge, they hit the brakes and Anderson layers a lead into the verse riff to serve as a bookending outro, leading to the darker “Realms,” which offers some middle ground between the more impact-minded crushers and the moody side A closer, “Rivermen” to come. More subdued initially in its vocals, feedback and drum thud meter out an underlying threat that comes to bear in an impressive – if short at 3:04 – linear build, Hyde shouting out memorable repetitions based around the line “This is a temple.” So it may be. He brings the instruments with him to a manic wash, the song cutting short to let “Rivermen” start slow.
Posted in Reviews on March 26th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
The level to which New Zealander four-piece Shallow Grave carry listeners with them along their undulating downer path isn’t necessarily commensurate to the volume at which their self-titled debut is played, but more never hurt. On the six-track/55-minute outing, released by Astral Projection (Lamp of the Universe, Arc of Ascent), the Auckland outfit oppress almost universally, beginning with a cold atmospheric introduction to “Devil’s Harvest” and never quite losing that sensibility at any time throughout their assault. They are, impressively so for a first record, markedly individual within their sphere, with a sound that takes elements of sludge, post-metal (some “tribal” drumming here, some Neurosis guitar wail there), but despite coming across with considerable tonal largesse on the album itself still manage to maintain a raw sensibility as well – crust almost, but slower and more complex, with a subtle swirl that offsets the barking vocals. Comprised of Tim Leth, James Barker, Brent Bidlake and Mike Rothwell, they’re an outfit who keep their origins obscure but who’ve been playing out since at least 2010, and have obviously used that time well in developing this material, which is drawn together by ambient drones and samples that pull the listener along from one track into the next, as “Devil’s Harvest” moves into “Chemical Fog” once it has run its fervently abrasive course with low hum and high-pitched whistle, amp noise maybe run through an echo chamber. Shallow Grave are hardly the first band to use this method to unite their pieces into a single whole, but it works for them throughout here, and on the one occasion when they don’t – the later “From Boundless Heights,” which feedbacks its way into “To Unfathomable Depths” – the effect is even more complementary. At their heart, though, they pummel. “Chemical Fog,” which moves at a faster clip than the opener, gives no ground in terms of its tonal heft, and it’s a ferocious headphone listen, all the more consuming without distraction for the intricacies that show themselves in the two guitars at work and the layers of screams that show up as the song moves past its halfway point. The ensuing samples are well mixed and well met by the band’s crashes, but it’s the final mostly-instrumental (some ambient screams) push that most satisfies, the track arriving at a massive peak before being consumed to a rising wall of painful low-end static noise.
From there, they cut right into “Nameless Chants,” which rounds out the first half of the album. Shallow Grave is broken into de facto sides – three tracks on one, three tracks on another, broken up in the listing on the back cover of the CD – though at 55 minutes, it’s longer than an actual single LP would hold and “Nameless Chants” feeds as much into “From Boundless Heights” as anything else does to what follows. Still, the sense of structure remains resonant throughout, and it’s a handy tool for understanding part of Shallow Grave’s approach and the influences they’re working from, putting them in line with the tropes of more traditional doom without necessarily forging a stylistic alliance that might not comport with the droning, hypnotic repetitions of “Nameless Chants,” which works its way through several movements instrumentally, one led by the guitar, one led by the drums, gnashing and gnarling for a full five minutes before introducing a verse on vocals. This switch in compositional method comes at just the right time to throw off listeners, who might have a sense of knowing what to expect after “Devil’s Harvest” and “Chemical Fog,” which had their differences in tempo but essentially covered the same ground structurally. “Nameless Chants” is a harder read where it’s most needed, and the final slowdown serves as a crashing, crushing apex for the self-titled’s initial three cuts. With the linear listening experience of the CD, there’s no dip in momentum between that apex and the beginning of “From Boundless Heights,” the shortest track on Shallow Grave at just over five minutes – everything else tops eight, the opener 10 and the closer 15 – that continues the rush preceding and develops over its course into a furious churn topped by chaotic leads and screams that still manage to return to the song’s own march. Together, “From Boundless Heights” and “To Unfathomable Depths” account for the most distinctly post-metal section of the record, with the plod of the former leading straight into the gradually-arriving, lurching howl of the latter. Even here though – and for this I’ll give at least partial credit to the screamed vocals – Shallow Grave retain an identity of their own, keeping the atmosphere consistent with the rest of the album and the crushing sonics moving forward through loud/quiet tradeoffs.
Why yes, that is Lamp of the Universe‘s Acid Mantrain full set to images from the Hubble telescope in various stages of manipulation. Thanks for asking. Truth be told, I spent so much of today with my teeth clenched that now my jaw hurts, and in looking for something to round out the week, nothing seemed heavy enough, angry enough, miserable or misanthropic enough to properly convey the sort of in-all-directions frustration in which I’ve been embroiled for the better part of the last three days. So I decided to go the other direction with it. Like, complete opposite.
And in finding the most blissed out psych I could readily think of, 2009′s Acid Mantra(review here) came to mind almost immediately. New Zealand’s Lamp of the Universe will reportedly have a new full-length out next month according to Craig Williamson, the lone figure behind the project (also bassist/vocalist for Arc of Ascent), and from where I sit that’s good news. Acid Mantra being more active than much of the Lamp material that came before it, I was kind of worried it was put to bed for good when Arc of Ascent got going. That band also rules and I would recommend their two albums to anyone who hasn’t heard them, it’s just a different appeal.
I’d have included Lamp of the Universe in that list that went up on Tuesday, but details on the forthcoming stuff are scarce and I don’t know the exact release date. Good news anyway though, and much needed. I guess I’ve been kind of burnt out. Doing posts today for Desertfest and Roadburn right in a row only underscored to me just how ready I am to punch out for a while, and while I last year managed to stay so busy for most of the trip that I actually felt like coming back home was the vacation — and I expect much the same for this year — it’s time. I wish it was this week. Gotta go, gotta go.
Russian Circles are at Radio City Music Hall tomorrow night with two bands I don’t care to see, and if I can get a photo pass, I’m going to go. Been too long since I got out and I’m starting to go stir crazy. Holly Hunt are also playing, at The Acheron, and it’s been a while since I did two shows in a night, but I might just be out of my head enough to give it a shot, and I figure Russian Circles will be over early enough to make it over to Brooklyn in good time. Some math to be done there, and it remains to be seen if I can get into that Radio City gig, but if I can, I’ll write about it Monday.
Also over the weekend I want to see if I can tackle the Devil to Pay album, which I wanted fucking desperately to review today. Got slapped with work and bullshit piled on top of bullshit related to various other site-irrelevant concerns, so by the time I would’ve been able to start — like 3PM or so — I was already so pissed at the time gone by that I couldn’t even really get it rolling. Escapist festival updates and shows happening on the other side of the country instead. There’s a hidden message in there somewhere. Whatever.
Thanks to everyone who checked in this week. As always, I hope you have a great and safe weekend however you wind up spending it, and if you’ve found yourself in the bummer kind of funk as apparently my quick-to-bitching ass has, then I hope the Lamp of the Universe record above does you some good as well. By all accounts, that’s what it’s there for. If you’re looking to kill time, hit up the forum and The Obelisk Radio, both of which kick ass more than I could’ve anticipated at the time.
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Following up the thunder wrought by their 2011 self-titled debut, New Zealand’s Beastwars will release their sophomore outing, Blood Becomes Fire, on April 19. To celebrate the release, the four-piece are hitting the road alongside Unida (the two are also doing a gig with Truckfighters, which is a show I’d very much like to see), and before they get to that, they’ve made Blood Becomes Fireavailable to pre-order on a special site they put up in the album’s honor. Needless to say for anybody who heard the self-titled (review here), but this is one to look forward to.
Get yourself informed:
BEASTWARS – Blood Becomes Fire – 19 April 2013
In 2011, sludge metallers Beastwars transformed New Zealand’s heavy music scene with their internationally acclaimed, multi-award-nominated debut. On 19 April 2013, the Wellington-based four-piece return with their highly anticipated new album, Blood Becomes Fire.
Abiding by Beastwars’ own steadfast maxim, ‘Obey the Riff’, Blood Becomes Fire features 10 songs that serve witness to the end of days, told through the eyes of a dying traveler from another time.
“It’s a reflection on mortality, death and disease. Sooner or later they come for all of us,” says vocalist Matt Hyde.
“It’s a heavy album, both sonically and lyrically,” says drummer Nathan Hickey, “but what solidifies it are the triumphant ‘fuck yeah’ riffs. To us, this music is like getting psyched up to go into battle. You could be at war with yourself, or someone else.”
Following a successful collaboration on Beastwars’ debut, Blood Becomes Fire was co-produced, recorded and mixed by Dale Cotton (HDU, Die! Die! Die!), mastered in California by John Golden (Neurosis, Swans, High on Fire), and features the art of Weta Workshop’s award-winning Nick Keller—whose mind-melting gatefold oil paintings depict a twisted world inspired by the aural artillery within.
Streaming audio samples and limited edition pre-order merch bundles of Blood Becomes Fire are available now atwww.bloodbecomesfire.com. These include 100 gold and red LPs with gatefold art, which come with three special edition custom Beastwars guitar picks.
Following the release of Blood Becomes Fire, Beastwars will tour Australia and New Zealand supporting John Garcia’s post-Kyuss band, Unida, before headlining their own shows in May.
Tour Dates: Auckland Saturday April 20th, Real Groovy Records instore performance (4pm) Auckland Friday May 3rd, The Kings Arms with Unida Wellington Saturday May 4th, Bodega with Unida Sydney Friday May 10th, The Manning Bar with Unida and Truckfighters Melbourne Sunday 12th, The Hi Fi with Unida
More dates to be announced.
Blood Becomes Fire Tracklisting 1. Dune 2. Imperium 3. Tower of Skulls 4. Realms 5. Rivermen 6. Caul of Time 7. Ruins 8. Blood Becomes Fire 9. Shadow King 10. The Sleeper
Beastwars Clayton Anderson – Guitar Nathan Hickey – Drums Matt Hyde – Vocals James Woods – Bass
New Zealand heavy dominators Beastwars posted a clip for their track “The Sleeper” just last month, and they’ve already followed it up with a video for the A-side of the same 7″ single, Tower of Skulls. “Tower of Skulls” continues their parade of burl and individualized heaviness, and with news that the Wellington four-piece will be touring Australia with none other than YOB and Elder come March 2013, I wouldn’t expect their momentum to slow anytime soon.
Perhaps it’s not as grandiose as was their video for “Empire” from their excellent self-titled outing, but Beastwars never fail to get their point across. Dig it:
For those in that part of the world, Beastwars have a couple dates coming up:
Nov 17 – Auckland
Nov 23 – Wellington
Nov 24 – New Plymouth
Dec 1 – Christchurch
Burlier than thou New Zealand outfit Beastwars have just unveiled “The Sleeper,” the B-side to their new single, “Tower of Skulls.” They’ll reportedly have a video for the single in the next few weeks, and if you’ll recall the clip they did for “Empire” from their self-titled full-length (review here), that’s undoubtedly something to look forward to, but in the meantime, “The Sleeper” hits public consciousness via a YouTube stream that it’s my pleasure to share with you.
The song is pretty subdued for the most part, but it’s got some underlying nastiness to it that surfaces late, all gritting teeth and whatnot and rife with tension. Check it out below, followed by the latest update from the band via their Thee Facebooks, and enjoy:
The Sleeper is the B-side to a limited edition glow in the dark 7″ vinyl that we’re releasing to coincide with our tour next month. The A-side is the much heavier track Tower of Skulls which will be released with a video in the coming weeks.
Tour dates are: Auckland Sat 17th Nov – Kings Arms, Wellington Fri 23rd Nov – San Fran Bathhouse, New Plymouth Sat 24th Nov – TSB Stadium/NZ Tattoo Festival, Christchurch Sat 1st Dec – The Irishman.
More than a year after self-releasing the record to much international acclaim (including mine; review here), New Zealand battle metallers Beastwars will get an official American issue of their self-titled debut in November. To herald its arrival in fittingly grand style, the heavy riffing foursome have a new video for the song “Empire,” which is the kind of track that gives you headbanger’s whiplash when played at the appropriate volume. Needless to say, have your favorite muscle relaxant at the ready.
Also worth noting it’s not the first time the band has gone big. If you’ve forgotten the album gatefold art, it was also pretty stellar.
Clip was directed by Hamish Waterhouse. Things to look out for include animal sacrifice, a massive pyre, old-man-death-as-metaphor and a 10-month-old baby being pulled from the carcass of a wildebeest. Enjoy:
Posted in Reviews on May 22nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
The second album from New Zealand heavy rock trio Arc of Ascent, dubbed The Higher Key, could easily be considered the third in a progression. Okay, maybe not easily, since it’s their sophomore outing and there’s no immediate third record to consider, but The Higher Key fits into a line of development that also includes the last album from bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson’s prior outfit, the one-man operation Lamp of the Universe. The final (to date) Lamp of the Universe record, 2009’s Acid Mantra (review here), was beginning to push away from some of that band’s most indulgent psychedelia. It had drums, for one, and the atmosphere of the album overall was more active than the prior few Lamp installments, perhaps harkening back to Williamson’s days playing with underappreciated psych heavies Datura, but not quite there yet. Going from Acid Mantra to Arc of Ascent’s 2010 Circle of the Sun debut (review here) in the space of one year was a big jump for Williamson – who was the only member of one band and remains the lone songwriter in the other – but just as Acid Mantra had some more rock-based ideas present in its songs, so too did Circle of the Sun also find Williamson incorporating sitar and Indian-derived scales into the more straightforward, heavy rocking material. It was a naturalizing and easing effect for anyone who’d followed Williamson’s progression with Lamp of the Universe and welcome flourish to those who perhaps hadn’t encountered him before Arc of Ascent. While The Higher Key still bleeds heavy psychedelia from its very core – one finds Williamson’s vocals on the two side-ending tracks “Search for Liberation” and “Through the Rays of Infinity” to be particularly reminiscent of past ethereal chanting, however different the surrounding context might be – it’s still one more step further along the shifting line of progression that began with Acid Mantra (actually, it probably began well before that, but it began to palpably manifest itself there, anyway). There isn’t a sitar anywhere on it.
And I’ve looked!
Moreover, the whole of The Higher Key, despite being just three minutes shorter than its predecessor at 43, feels more straightforward and stripped down in terms of arrangement. Williamson is more confident vocally than he’s ever sounded, and so is less presented less drenched in echo and more forward in the mix, and there’s a heady crunch in the guitars of Sandy Schaare – come in as replacement for Matt Cole-Baker while drummer John Strange returns to round out the trio. All this, again, is put into a heavy psychedelic context. I’ve no desire to give the impression that Williamson, who also helms the release on Astral Projection and produced these cuts (they were recorded across a few different studios with a few different engineers, but Kenny MacDonald also mixed and mastered) as well as singing on them, playing bass and adding percussion, keys, tanpura and singing bowl, is suddenly writing songs about motorcycle rallies or anything like that, unless he’s cloaking those ideas in lines like, “Solstice of ageless rising, regains delight,” from opener “Celestial Altar.” A fun idea, but not likely. The lyrics seem to be where Williamson has most continued his cosmic-spiritualistic exploration on The Higher Key, and the cadence with which he delivers his lines backs up that idea. He pushes his vocal range some backing himself on side B’s “Redemption” and “Elemental Kingdom,” which is probably the heaviest cut here, tonally speaking, and on in the verse of “Search for Liberation,” he manages to work in a layer on top where he’s almost singing along with himself – I wouldn’t be surprised if the parts were recorded using exactly that method – all the while maintaining a consistency in his rhythmic delivery that feels naturally born out of what he was doing on Circle of the Sun. Fans and followers of Al Cisneros’ work in Om will find Williamson familiar, if less purposefully monotone.
This one has been a long time coming, any by that, I mean months. I’m bad enough with email interviews as it is, since general wordiness and the thought that someone might read something the wrong way and embark on a 300-word answer that basically rounds out to “You’re a putz” keeps me more or less paralyzed in terms of actually phrasing the questions (whereas with phoners, I usually just work from notes and enjoy that flexibility), but part of it too has to be attributed to New Zealand gloom rockers The House of Capricorn‘s genre blend.
Across their two records, 2010′s Sign of the Cloven Hoof (review here) and last year’s In the Devil’s Days (review here), the Auckland four-piece take elements from doom, heavy rock and ’90s-style gothic imagery and occultism and turn it into something grand, smiling shiny teeth through its own darkness. And you know, I think part of the holdup too was just the fact that I knew I was hearing Type O Negative in their sound but wasn’t sure if it was just my own East Coast American ears putting it onto those albums, both released through Swamps of One Tree Hill.
Turns out that, no, it wasn’t just me. Founder and vocalist Marko Pavlovic not only acknowledges the influence, but seems to delight in it, leaving credit for the stoner/doom elements at work in The House of Capricorn‘s sound to guitarist Scott Blomfield, bassist Ami Holifield and drummer Mickey Rothwell. Fair enough, since if you’re going to have a genuine blend, it needs to come from different sides within a cohesive whole, but as Pavlovic recounts doing the majority of the writing for In the Devil’s Days and Sign of the Cloven Hoof, it’s worth noting his stylistic breadth isn’t limited to just one sound or another.
Except perhaps his own, since although The House of Capricorn are comparable to this or that act in terms of citing influences, there doesn’t seem to be any single source from which they wholly derive their modus. As they continue to progress and move past In the Devil’s Days and on to the next work, whatever that might be, that can only serve them well — all the more if they can hone a production sound that serves to highlight both the unique aspects and cohesiveness of their sound. In the Q&A that follows, Pavlovic discusses (in part through a great number of parenthetical asides) what shape that next outing may take, as well as how The House of Capricorn got together, some of their favorite countrymen acts, and much more.
Thanks to Pavlovic in being so patient waiting for these to come through, and thanks to you for reading. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. It’s been almost six years since the first EP came out, but background info on the band is pretty sparse. How did The House of Capricorn first get together, and how would you characterize the music you play?
Christ, we sound almost as mysterious as Miss Scarlett (it was alwaysthat saucy vixen, in the library, with the candlestick).
The House of Capricorn first came together with its still-current lineup at the end of 2005 (we’d all first met each other around the end of ‘03), after I coerced Mickey into playing drums on a couple of songs I’d had written for years (which results in The Rivers & the Rain/Old Redhook demo) — I first met him in the quad at Auckland University, after I commented on his Alice in Chains shirt. He was drumming for a band called GrenadeKills3 and playing guitar for Graymalkin at the time, both bands which I really like(d). After the demo was recorded I had it duplicated to exactly 66 hand numbered CDRs (with artwork sporting a grubby old tomb under a tree — right on), and started chucking it out to some people who I thought might be interested (bear in mind, this is handing it out to people involved in extreme metal in Auckland — no one was really overtly into the whole hard/stoner rock thing in our town, in that scene), and selling it for $6NZD a piece (hey, I had to find the other ‘6’ from somewhere). Mickey then decided the tunes were reasonably tolerable, and offered to join fulltime.
Ami I knew from gigs and parties — she was also playing bass for a BlackSabbath covers outfit (or as some would say, “tribute” band). She hit me up at an Ulcerate show at the Kings Arms one night and offered to play bass. I quickly agreed.
At the time I was playing in Creeping with Scotty B., who I’d met through a mutual acquaintance at his place of work. It was a completely natural move to ask him three times in a row to join, each time with growing desperation (Scott: Man… Are you sure you shouldn’t just change the name of the band to The House of Creeping?). From then on, EP in ‘06, couple of EP/single-length samplers on CDR and a video across ‘07-’09, SotCH ‘10, ItDDin ‘11.
I still personally consider the band to have started in 2001 when I first wrote “The Rivers & the Rain” (March 19, 2001, to be exact). I used to have a band with a few guys I was in high school which was essentially the first incarnation, but it was never anything more than a bit of fun.
So there you are, for anyone who gives a shit. History to date = complete. We try extremely hard to mimic Hasjarl’s and Mikko’s levels of ultimate clandestine infamy. I’ve just ruined all that.
In terms of how I would characterize our music… “apocalyptic devil rock” is what I’ve been going with. I really can’t think of anything better than that. It’s a little outrageous, really.
2. How much influence do you take from gothic rock? Listening to In the Devil’s Days, it seems like there’s a side of the band working from those elements, thinking of bands like Type O Negative and maybe Paradise Lost.
We are all Type O Negative nutcases, so its really only natural for us to plagiarise the greatest band of all time.
Aside from Type O Negative, I’m probably the most aligned to the whole gothic rock thing out of all of us — the others are a lot more into the stoner rock/doom buzz than I am. BabylonWhores are one of my top three bands of all time, and I love The Sisters of Mercy (just saw them on Feb. 22 in Auckland — it was fucking awesome, but Jesus, walking into that show it felt like someone had exhumed half the graveyard).
I’ve heard the Paradise Lost reference a couple of times for this new album of ours. Truth be told I don’t think any of us are really big on them. I mean, I’ve got One Second, which I do like (“Blood of Another” is killer), but that’s about it. Not to say they’re not a sweet band, I just don’t think we were really exposed to them in the way people seem to think. Maybe I need to give them more of a spin.
Overall though, the influence from the stuff we do listen to is extremely prevalent. The elements we overtly absorb/reflect from gothic rock are much the same as the ones we absorb/reflect from good black metal: spooky melodies and gloomy sonic atmospherics to match my obsession with wanting to live in the Addams Family house.
I’m not big on party-goth stuff though. It’s all cemeteries and haunted mansions for The House of Capricorn.
3. What’s The House of Capricorn’s songwriting process like? Were there any specific goals you had in mind for In the Devil’s Days and now that the record has been out for a while, do you have a sense of what you’d like to do next?
To date I’ve written most of the material, but the other guys (and gal) were a lot more in the mix on the last album.
On one hand, I’ll come to the others with a full song written and say, “Hey, learn this shit, this is the new one.” On the other, one of us will swoop in with a riff or two or an idea, we’ll sit down, work out some accompanying riffs, usually in one of our lounges while drinking Milo, and close it up like that. I’d say we work pretty similarly to most bands when it comes to writing… even though I’d love to tell you that we snatch the inspiration from our individual ritualistic trance-state journeys into the void.
With regards to specific goals, it was all outlined from the start (apart from in the case of one of the riffs from “Horns”). Once SotCH was finished and out, we all sat down at a practice and discussed the direction for the next one. It was decided upon that we would do a concept album, outlining a descent into Hell to meet the Devil, and that the music would match the tale. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the album’s disjointed nature, switching from mid-paced to funeral crawl (see that little reference there? some people will get it), but to me it makes perfect sense being in line with the overall storyline. Maybe only because I wrote the fucking thing. We really should think about the end-user next time.
Regarding the next album, it’s currently being worked on (along with a couple of tracks for some splits which will hopefully materialize). It probably won’t be as much of a formed, conceptual masterpiece as ItDD… probably more just a bunch of leftover odd ends we decide to throw together. Expect ReLoad ‘13.
4. Tell me about writing “Horns” – the song in three parts. How did it all come together, and what’s the band’s connection to arcane themes? Where does that influence come from?
“Horns” was the first song started and the last one finished. The main riff from the third section was actually the first one written for the whole album, before we’d even started thinking about doing our first record properly. Rothwell had asked me to play bass for a Graymalkin reformation as they were supporting Napalm Death on a couple of shows here in about ’07, I think. We were sitting in his bedroom just jamming away (probably around June ‘07), and I can’t remember which one of us started playing it, but we both looked at each other and went, “Yeah! That sounds like some real-deal Halloween shit!.” The rest of the song was written throughout 2010, right up until about one month out from tracking. My favourite riff in that song is the first of the second section — that was a Scotty B. special that me and Mickey added a bit to. The reason it’s in three parts however was a decision made by yours truly to completely and utterly rip on Bloody Kisses-era Type O.
When it comes to the arcane, thematic element of the band, I am completely and utterly possessed by the atmosphere generated by symbolism tied hand in hand with (as mentioned above) campy, Dracced up aesthetics like low-lying mist, and old buildings with creaky doors and creepy shadows.
Couple all that with a genuine interest in the Devil — and I mean the Devil (horns, wings, hellfire and brimstone, the Morning Star, etc.), not a metaphysical concept or any kind of representative idol, and you get our final product.
I really don’t know where that influence comes from though. I’ve always been interested in Devil worship and other assorted occultism. I can’t remember where it started. I wish I could say it was when I developed a crush on Fairuza Balk after watching The Craft for the first time, but it was definitely before that. Maybe I was fiending on Maleficent when she turned into the dragon. I still vividly remember that line that finished with “…and all the powers of HELL!!” I mean, she did have that kinda sexy Scandinavian look going on… high cheekbones and a haughty walk. Know what I’m saying?
5. I know of a few bands from New Zealand playing doom or heavy rock – Arc of Ascent, Beastwars, etc. – but is there anyone you’d recommend checking out? Anyone you especially enjoy doing shows with? What’s the scene like in New Zealand?
[Please note: This section contains many links which may not at first be obvious. -- ed.] Our top partners in crime are/were Second Gear Grind, Soulseller and Arc of Ascent.
Second Gear Grind from Christchurch are probably as close to pure stoner rock as you’re going to find in NZ. Total blues driven “yeah yeah yeah” stuff that is 100 percent ticket and heavy as fuck. You gotta check ‘em out, man. I’ll send you some if you like.
Soulseller, who have recently, disappointingly disbanded, were a rowdy, heavy rock ‘n’ roll crew from Dunedin. They’ve got a self-titled EP that came out a few years ago, and also a couple of tracks on a couple of compilations. One of (along with Second Gear Grind) the best bands I’ve ever seen, ever.
And Arc of Ascent from Hamilton you’re already familiar with. No doubt Craig [Williamson]’s space-spirit popped a CD into your mailbox during one of his transcendental soul-flights through the celestial heavens.
These three bands along with us I think really began the foundation of what became the “scene” (that’s said without conceit — and if you can even call it a scene). Before we all got together for the tour (we did a four-date StonerDoom tour [http://stonerdoom.co.nz is a forum originally started by a guy called Rich who has since moved back to the UK -- whatup Rich!] in 2008 in each of our hometowns — may not seem like many shows, but shit, NZ isn’t a big place!), and Ami’s annual December stoner fests Eyes of the South in Christchurch and Northern Lights in Auckland, which started up in ‘07, there really was nothing. We were all playing shows in our respective cities with bands from other scenes (extreme metal bands in The House of Capricorn’s case, maybe due to previous alignments), to people who didn’t give a shit (not saying anyone really gives a shit now, but it’s gotten a bit better). Craig was playing in Datura in the ‘90s, and when I asked him he said it was pretty much the same deal.
Nowadays, in terms of doom and hard rock, other bands that definitely need checking out are Shallow Grave (Rothwell from HOC playing guitar again) who are a heavy psychedelic doom outfit — their debut should be out sometime this year, StoneAngels (Steve, Geoff and Mike from Second Gear Grind, and Kris from SinistrousDiabolus) who are a real downbeat doom/crusty IronMonkey-kinda crew, SinistrousDiabolus (who have been around since the early ‘90s) who play total funeral doom probably more aligning with the metal side of things, and Triceratops who are a new doom band, and have just released their VS Music EP.
There are also bands like Interconnector who take more of a, I guess, party rock ‘n’ roll Fu Manchu-kinda approach (cars and girls and stuff), Osmium, who are on a real good Alice in Chains vibe, Left or Right who do a wicked cross of big stoner riffs and reggae, Cobra Khan, who have more of a punky flavour, and Somme who are on a drone buzz, all of whom rule.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
Hopefully we’ll get something sorted out in way of a tour (either the US or EU) at some point in 2013 after the next one’s out. If there are any promoters or good bands interested, we’re definitely keen to hear from you! We’re keen to come to the table to make it work.
Posted in audiObelisk on February 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Circle of the Sun, the first full-length from New Zealand heavy psych trio Arc of Ascent, was one of the most promising debuts of 2010 (review here). But of course, it wasn’t really a debut album for Arc of Ascent bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson, whose tenure in the ultra-psychedelic Lamp of the Universe and the crunchingly-riffed Datura ensured that the new band would have at very least a fascinating blend of influences. In the end, it not only satisfied on that level, but surprised with a clarity of production and depth of songcraft that guaranteed repeat listens would be no less engaging.
The enduring appeal of Circle of the Sun was what had me looking up Arc of Ascent‘s page on Thee Facebooks a couple weeks ago and checking back over this weekend, only to find out not only did the band have a new record ready to go — titled The Higher Key, and set for release on CD through Williamson‘s own Astral Projectionimprint — but that they were about to offer a sneak peak of the album on their Bandcamp site. As fast as my chubby fingers could type, I shot off an email to Williamson to see if he’d be interested in having a track streamed here, and fortunately, he accepted.
It’s the opening cut on The Higher Key, and that’s important because “The Celestial Altar” seems to show that although Arc of Ascent has replaced guitarist Matt Cole-Baker with Sandy Schaare — the three-piece is rounded out by returning drummer John Strange — the stylistic basis remains the same and has evolved to more clearly incorporate classic desert rock amid the psych ranging. If you’re paying attention, you’ll even catch a pretty throaty scream (I won’t tell you when; you’ll have to listen) that seems to show Arc of Ascent‘s continued sonic expansion.
Thanks to Williamson for letting me feature “The Celestial Altar” on the player below. Please enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Arc of Ascent‘s The Higher Key was recorded October-December, 2011, and features artwork by Greg Hodgson. Vinyl release is expected tentatively by April through Germany’s Clostridium Records in 180g black, color and die-hard editions. More info and updates on Arc of Ascent are available here.
Posted in Reviews on October 28th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Like last their debut in last year’s Sign of the Cloven Hoof (review here), the second album from New Zealander doom foursome The House of Capricorn – titled In the Devil’s Days – is cumbersome. Surpassing that record’s 59 minutes with a full 72-plus, they stretch the limits of what the CD format will hold. Where the two efforts differ, however, is in what The House of Capricorn do with that time. The first album adhered far more strictly to a traditional doom aesthetic than does In the Devil’s Days (released via Swamps of One Tree Hill), which from its very beginnings in “All Hail to the Netherworld” couples cultish or semi-Satanic lyrical themes with a mid-to-late-‘90s Roadrunner Records influence (think Life of Agony and maybe even some groove-metal-era Machine Head, tonally) primarily showing up in the shades of Type O Negative green permeating that song and others like “To Carry the Lantern,” “Veils” and, to a lesser extent, the closing title cut. The House of Capricorn still get down with more genre-minded doom – 10-minute second track “Les Innocents” is almost a direct port of the progression behind Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” – but even that is filtered through a style more the band’s own than what came through on the first record (it’s irrelevant to note, but Type O Negative covered that Sabbath track as well on the first Nativity in Black tribute and redid the lyrics for their The Least Worst of Type O Negative compilation).
Perhaps expectedly, In the Devil’s Days finds its greatest triumphs in the stretches most unique to the band. There’s a Euro-doom drama blended into “Veils” and a Misfits punk bass line from Ami Holifield on “Coffins & Cloven Hooves” that create an expectation of diversity in the material that the band well lives up to. The third cut behind the morose march of “Les Innocents,” “Coffins & Cloven Hooves” especially changes the atmosphere of the album with its up-tempo groove and a guitar line from six-stringer Scott Blomfield in the verse that calls to mind Marilyn Manson’s take on “Sweet Dreams” while also echoing the faster pacing of the opener, which, by this time, feels a world away. It works because the band makes it their own, and because vocalist Marko Pavlovic has no interest in doing impersonations. His singing on these tracks follows suit with the music behind him in being more assured. Perhaps the most effective blend of the sounds overall, though, is on “Arcane Delve,” which takes the faster push – drummer Michael Rothwell’s snare is high in the mix, but his performance remains crisp and classy – of “Coffins & Cloven Hooves” and the memorable chorus to “All Hail to the Netherworld” and ties it directly to a slower-than-mid-tempo doomed stomp. It’s not nearly as bleak as “Les Innocents” or “Horns” still to come, but of the whole of In the Devil’s Days, it’s where the band seems most comfortable, even going to far as to bring in a slower Slayer-esque lead riff at about 4:45. The two-minute acoustic interlude “Canto IV” (actually V, if we’re going by Roman numerals) is quiet enough to pass unnoticed at low volumes, especially followed by the doomed sensibilities of “Veils.”
Posted in On the Radar on June 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ll be honest, had I not been dicking around on The House of Capricorn‘s MySpace page after reviewing their album, I probably would have never found out about their New Zealand countrymen, Soulseller. They’re a straightforward, balls-out guitar/vocals, bass and drums trio, and though their sound isn’t necessarily anything revolutionary, what’s best about Soulseller is they swagger like I’ve heard few stoner rock bands do.
My pick of the tracks on their MySpace is “Bloody Richard” — its lyrical theme taken from Shakespeare‘s Richard III — but I think you can hear the snotty aspect of Soulseller even better on “Year of the Dog,” which is a little faster and a little more punk-grown-up. The vocals of guitarist Jared are rife with attitude no matter the context, but the lyrics to “Year of the Dog” do a great job of playing it up even further, whereas the slightly longer “Talking in Tongues,” while also quicker than “Bloody Richard,” is also more complex in terms of its songwriting. “Year of the Dog” is simple and mean.
Luckily (for anyone listening), Soulseller can pull off either. Jared‘s guitars are fuzz-drenched, the bass of Damo is thick and low, and Hayden‘s drumming adapts quickly to any change of pace that comes up, such as the turn at the conclusion of “Talking in Tongues” that’s pure Sabbath and pulled off with startling confidence for a band with only one self-titled EP and a couple compilation appearances under their collective belt. But then, that seems to be Soulseller‘s thing: rocking and knowing it. If the MySpace songs are anything to go by, it’s definitely going to be worth keeping them on the radar to see what they do next.
Posted in Reviews on June 18th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
With one of the most beautiful cities in one of the world’s most beautiful regions as their backdrop, Auckland, New Zealand’s The House of Capricorn make their full-length debut with Sign of the Cloven Hoof (Swamps of One Tree Hill), and though it seems with the most superficial of readings – basically that of the names of the band, album and some of the tracks – that The House of Capricorn are simply going to be trotting out the doom clichés one at a time, the reality of the songs on Sign of the Cloven Hoof is far more intricate and individual. An old school single-guitar four-piece, The House of Capricorn offer pleasant surprises right off the bat, with able use of melody and a solid balance of influences.
My first impression on hearing Sign of the Cloven Hoof was, “Well, Trouble has made it to New Zealand,” but the truth is that The House of Capricorn have more going on than mere aping of traditional doom. Vocalist Marko Pavlovic has a balance of gruffness and singing in his voice that reminds me of Steve Brooks’ work in Floor, and though he strains at times on these songs, he nonetheless gets where he is going without any real trouble. The first two of the total 13 tracks on Sign of the Cloven Hoof pass relatively quickly, but it’s with “A Devilish Manifesto” that the album has its first real moment of impact, and his voice is a big part of what makes it hit so hard.
Posted in Reviews on March 18th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was clear from the last Lamp of the Universe record, Acid Mantra, that Kiwi psychedelicist Craig Williamson was looking to do something a little more structured. Williamson, who cut his riffing teeth playing in underrated head rockers Datura, emerges from the cosmic ether now as bassist/vocalist/etc. in the trio Arc of Ascent, which continues some of Lamp of the Universe’s psychedelic exploration, but puts said psychedelia — which comes on thanks to sitar, tanpura, synths, bells, chanting, and so forth; all of which are credited to Williamson — in a more outwardly heavy context. Make no mistake, we’re still reaching out to the farthest uncharted regions of spiritual innerspace, but now we’re doing it with thick guitar riffs! Never know what you’ve been missing until you find it.
These riffs come courtesy of Matt Cole-Baker, and while it’s clear Arc of Ascent’s full-length debut, Circle of the Sun (Astral Projection) still holds its protagonist in Williamson, each member of the trio proves essential to the band’s sound, whether it’s Cole-Baker starting off the space rock groove of “The Inner Sign” or drummer John Strange falling right into place with that groove and blissing out on a tom-heavy repetition until the song kicks in. For sheer heft, Cole-Baker’s guitar stays weighty even in its lead tone, offering notes that ring out behind themselves in comet trails. Circle of the Sun works out to about 46 minutes, but with the space-themed artwork, space-themed songs and wide ranging creative breadth, it feels big and open.